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Sweet Guava and Cream Cheese Spread

Early mornings at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico were extraordinarily beguiling and captivating.  My older sister, Cynthia, and I awoke every morning in the soft, white-cloud canopy of mosquito nets hung from hooks embedded in lofty ceilings.  In the drowsy world of being not quite awake, as we stirred, not yet aware of sights and sounds, we felt like brides…or princesses.  As we lay in our beds savoring the last vestiges of morning coolness, we took pleasure in the cooing of doves outside our windows.  The gentle swish, swish, swish of slippers against old floor tiles signaled the house was coming to life and someone, thank you God!, was making coffee.  Even as little girls we always drank coffee.  Everyone did.  I remember my mother laughing as she told me the story of my Tio Roberto and coffee.  Mama said my uncle was a young boy of maybe five or six years old when my grandfather found him somewhat wistful and down in the mouth.  Tio Roberto was my grandfather’s favorite boy and couldn’t bear to see him unhappy.  “Mi nene, pero que te pasa”?  “My son, what’s wrong?”  In a low voice my uncle answered, “Aye, Papa!  I hate school!” “But why?”, asked my grandfather.  Tio Roberto answered, “I miss my 10:00 cafe con leche.”  That cracks me up every time I think about it.  His father replied, “Well, you don’t have to go to school.  Stay home and have your cafecito as long as you want.”  Can you imagine saying that to your kindergartener? And so my uncle did.  Everyday my mother, aunts and uncles would pile into the coach to be driven to school while my Tio Roberto stayed home…alone…with no one to play with.  No brothers to go fishing or ride together.  No brothers to climb trees with or sisters to tease.  That had to be hell.  That lasted two or three days, he gave up his mid-morning coffee and back to school he happily went.

Breakfast in Puerto Rico was always modest and light.  Don’t get me wrong, it was always enjoyable but never heavy with pancakes and meat and cheesy casseroles.  Breakfast typically consisted of strong Puerto Rican coffee laced with steamed whole milk and a generous spoonful of island sugar.  Oh, but it was good!  Alongside jugs of ice-cold water, one at each end of the table, were baskets of crackers to be eaten with a little local cheese or butter.  And there was, without fail, fresh fruit.  Luscious wheels of deep, coral-red papaya or sweet, golden pineapple beautifully carved and laid out on platters would complete the meal.  But if we were really lucky we would be served guava paste or guava spread.  Guava and cream cheese spread is sublime offered firm and cold from the refrigerator or warm and runny having been freshly made.  These days it’s a beautiful addition not only at breakfast or brunch but also at cocktail hour.  The addition of the cream cheese and sour cream in the recipe lends the spread the perfect balance of sweet and savory.  It’s beautiful at a shower, picnic or pool party and lasts forever covered in the refrigerator.  Here in Florida guava paste may be found on the bread aisle at Winn-Dixie and on the canned fruit aisle at Publix.  If you can’t find it just ask.  And last, I buy the guava paste cryovaced in block form made by Goya.  Buen provecho!

Sweet Guava and Cream Cheese Spread

  • Servings: 5 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 14 ounces guava paste
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Place guava paste in a medium size bowl and on high heat soften 30 second increment until there are still lumps but you are able to stir the paste.  You don’t want it to become liquid.
  2. Add the softened cream cheese and sour cream and stir until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Serve with crackers, biscotti or fruit.  For a thicker, firmer consistency, cover and chill for several hours.

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Homemade Ricotta for an Easy Saturday

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Saturday was boiling hot.  The “Real Feel” temperature when I left to work out was 108°.  It was not a day for baking or watching over bubbling pots on the stove.  No, something cool and pretty for dinner was in order and while dinner was being assembled one hand needed to be occupied with a cold summer cocktail.  I didn’t want anything processed…y’all know that ain’t me, babe.  I wanted something cool and easy but substantial and rich in flavor.  I had almost all the ingredients on hand and most were already prepared.  Lemons, shelled pistachios, fresh thyme, garlic and whole grain bread are always to be found in my kitchen.  There’s about a 95% chance you’ll almost always find fig preserves in my refrigerator. The only thing I had to prepare was the ricotta.  For lasagne I’ll buy store-bought but for a dish more delicate I make my own.  I want the ricotta to sing with freshness AND it’s easier than getting in the car and driving to and from the store.  Here’s my summer secret.  It’s made in the microwave.  Isn’t that great?  No hot kitchen.  I’m going to post the recipe for homemade ricotta below but before I do let me tell you how I served it.  Lightly toast your bread and let it cool to room temperature.  Run a peeled clove of fresh garlic over the top side of each piece.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over each, slather each slice with a thick coating of ricotta and cut into serving sized hunks.  This is where they became different. On some I lightly pressed in shelled, salted, roughly chopped pistachios.  Over that I sprinkled fresh thyme leaves and a bit of fresh lemon zest.  Oh, man.  They were divine.  On the others, over the ricotta,  I spread a layer of caramelized onions, (I try to always have a jar in the refrigerator),  a generous dollop of store-bought fig preserves and a light scattering of lemon zest.  These were served on a large tray with juicy slices of peaches each wrapped with a pretty ribbon of domestic prosciutto.  Oh my gosh, the sweet and salty of it all.  It doesn’t get much easier.  It’s a meal that’s light but satisfying and pleasing to the eye.  If you make your ricotta on Thursday or Friday you’re really ahead of the game.  So go ahead, pour that second drink and get back in the pool.  It’s hot!

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Homemade Ricotta Cheese

  • Servings: 2 generous cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half (heavy cream is fine, it’s your choice)
  • 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar (I like vinegar over lemon juice because the ph of all lemons is different.  Vinegar is more stable.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Place all the ingredients in a glass or non-reactive bowl in the microwave.
  2. Heat on high in 5 minute increments.  Do not stir.  Keep your eye on the milk to avoid boil-overs.
  3. Line a large plastic or non-reactive colander with several layers of cheesecloth, (buy it at any grocery store), and place the colander in the sink where it can drain.
  4. When the white curds have separated from the whey carefully remove the bowl from the microwave.  The whey is the watery stuff on the bottom and the ricotta is the thick, white layer on top.
  5.  Gently spoon the curds into the colander and when the bowl is cooler to handle continue by pouring all the remaining cheese and whey into the colander.
  6. The longer it sits and drains the thicker the cheese will be.  Done!

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Whole Wheat Coconut Ginger Scones

 

This morning on my walk I had my iPod cranked as usual when a medley of songs came on.  Puerto Rican salsa.  I love it. It makes me so happy I want to dance in the street and I sometimes do if no one’s around.  It made me think of the time I spent in Puerto Rico when I was working with Delta and one of my dearest friends, Rita.  Rita was born and raised in Puerto Rico, also started with Delta and, from the moment we met, we clicked.  She was the person who kept me roaring with laughter and almost always in trouble.   She was part of the Delta group who would go out dancing at all the fancy clubs in Old San Juan.  We had a blast.  We were all in our early twenties, gorgeous, happy, and looks for days.  When we’d tumble out of the last club, hot from dancing and slightly tipsy from one too many rum drinks, we’d all make a beeline for the churro cart.  It was parked in front of the cathedral, always, always, always, and the little churro man would start serving up the sweet, steaming pastry.  There would predictably be seven or eight of us, all chattering away a mile a minute.  “Oh, my gosh! Did you all see who I danced with? He is so cute!” or “I can’t believe he didn’t come here tonight!  What if I don’t ever see him again?” and then ALWAYS “Yeah, you know that guy I danced with all night?  Well, guess what?  He’s married.  Yep.  Pendejo.”  We’d laugh and tease each other, “Oye, nena.  Yo te vi!  Aha.  Yo te vi con ese papito!!”  We’d each finish our churros and made-by-hand hot chocolate and, one by one, slowly make our goodnights.  Monday would be here soon enough and we would all be back at work.  And it was one of those workdays that Rita and I came tearing back from lunch and cut through the front of the ticket office.  It must have been a Friday because she and I were flying out for the weekend, she to visit friends and I was headed home.  Anyway, we tore through the ticket office to get to the reservations office, where we worked.  And there, sitting all slouched and bad boy, was the Prince of Cute.  I would say our eyes met, but that was not the case.  He slowly took me in, eyes clearly enjoying what they saw, lazily looking up and down with a most naughty grin on his face.  I have to admit, I did the same.  His body language screamed privilege and indulgence.  The kind of boy who could, and would, play tennis at the club all day then drink and gamble all night.  My kinda guy.  I flashed him my best “I’m better looking than you” smile.  Who cares?  I’d never see him again.  Oh, man, but he was so darned cute.  I glanced down at the ticket  that my co-worker, Ketti, was issuing him… Toten Bacardi.  Yes.  Of the Bacardi dynasty.  Damn.  Rita whispered, “Hurry up, conyo! We’re late!” and we quickly disappeared into the reservation cave.  At the end of the day, we split a cab to the airport, and after catching up with our airport friends, settled into our seats.  As airline employees we had to dress well and be discreet.  After all, our travel was essentially free.  We traveled just about anytime we wanted, and almost always in first class.  We were seated in the very last two seats of first.  “Thank you.  I’d love a glass of champagne!” and that’s when I saw him.  My noontime ne’er-do-well.   Senor Sardonic.  This time our eyes met. He gave me an “Ah ha!” smile and I responded with a “Helloooo” smile, with that, he dropped down into his seat five or six rows in front of me.  Wheels down and we’re off.  I told Rita everything.  We laughed and giggled far into the flight, when I mentioned to her I was going to the restroom.  I was making my move.  Rita, in her true-to-form crazy way issued a dare… a double-dog dare.  She threw down the devil-may-care, all or nothing challenge.  “Fleje,” she said to me.  That was our nickname for each other, it’s slang for a little piece of dead cuticle.  “Fleje, I dare you, no, I double-dog dare you to do something cafre, tacky, really tacky.”  Jeeez.  Back then a dare to me was like waving a red cape in front of a bull.  I truly gave no thought to repercussions or consequences.   I had absolutely no guilt what so ever.  And neither did she.  Maybe we were a little too foolish.  But I wanted to date him.  I wanted to run with the big boys.  At least for a little while.  Only now I couldn’t.  Because of the dare.  Rising out of my seat, and to the occasion, I made my way down the aisle to the restroom.  I fluffed my hair and checked my lipstick.  I admired my outfit.  I remember what I had on.  It came from “the store”, my father’s clothing store.  Size 4, cotton, Christian Dior, 2-piece top with skirt, in a pale blue print.  Seriously feminine.  With 4-inch, cafe con leche colored leather heels.  Tres, tres sexy.  I shook my head with regret.  I knew what I had to do.  As I opened the door to the restroom, my gaze swept the first class section.  There he was, aisle seat, of course.  I made my way down the aisle, and as I approached him, our eyes met.  Closer and closer I approached and when I was almost a mere breath away, I did it.  I met the challenge.  I sucked my teeth.  Loudly.  Tongue to the upper right canine, slurping as though I had the world’s largest piece of mango string stuck up there.  And that closed the deal.  At once he looked away with distaste and revulsion.  He was lost forever.  Rita, however, observing it ALL,  applauded and toasted my inventiveness and creativity.  After all, boys were like buses.  Miss one, there’s another right around the corner.  So, for my querida Rita, I bring to the table Whole Wheat Coconut Ginger Scones.  Not exactly churros, but for a couple of ex-It girls, they’ll do just fine!

These scones are so great. Easy and not that bad for you. I swapped out for coconut cream, a thick coconut paste, for the oil that I couldn’t find.  Most Caribbean or Indian markets will carry several forms of coconut creams.  I found it at my neighborhood Publix grocery store in the island section.  A little six-ounce box.  These scones call for no dairy products but the coconut cream will give you the same result as butter, a rich and flaky texture. And if you’ve never baked with whole wheat pastry flour, try it. Unlike whole wheat all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour yields a light, tender product.  I’m crazy about it.  The recipe originally came from the New York Times, I made a few small adjustments.  You’re welcome to do the same.  Ginger butter, spiced cream cheese and hot chocolate all go really well with these.

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Whole Wheat Coconut Ginger Scones

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar, I use light brown
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons coconut cream or oil, not the stuff in the can, the cream is a super thick paste
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 cup finely diced candied ginger

 

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together, I use a whisk, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Stir in the sugar breaking any lumps.
  3. Place in your food processor the plastic blade.  The metal blade can heat up your dough, never good.  Add your flour mixture then the coconut cream.
  4. Pulse until the flour has the consistency of coarse cornmeal.
  5. Beat together the buttermilk and honey and add to the food processor.
  6. Add the ginger and process all until the dough just comes together.
  7. Place dough on a very lightly floured work surface and shape into a 3/4″ thick rectangle.
  8. Cut into six squares then cut each square diagonally into triangles.
  9. Place the 12 scones onto the parchment paper and bake 15 minutes.
  10. Cool on a rack.

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Outrageous Brownies

 

I made brownies tonight for one of my favorite Valentines, Jamesy.  I have another Valentine, his daddy, who heard about my brownies when he came to pick me up for our second date and met my family for the very first time.  My entire family.  I had moved back to Fort Lauderdale from Atlanta and was living at home.  Let me make this perfectly clear.  I had no problem moving back home.  It was great!  No rent and I could do whatever I wanted.  For our first date we had met for lunch and had the time of our lives.  We finished THAT date at the Parrot shooting melonballs with vodka floaters all afternoon and making out.  Hard to believe, but I really was a “nice girl”.  Anyway, on our second date Jimmy was to pick me up at home and, by default, he met my family.  Being a nice girl I had been taught “always make them wait”.  Okay.  In my bedroom, Pamela and I were messing around with makeup, maybe a little shoe chat was involved.  But OUTSIDE my bedroom, it was a whole different story.  Jimmy knocked on the front door and my older sister, Cynthia, answered.  She’s somewhat soft-spoken, incredibly gentle and super sweet.  With big eyes and a huge smile on her face, she swung open the door and murmured serenely, “Hi! You must be Jim! Come on in!”  And HE thought, “What do you mean?? What’s wrong with her?  She on drugs??”.  He stepped into the house and halfway through the living room encountered my little brother, Tommy, who had just scarfed down the latest batch of brownies I was tinkering with.  I believe they were chocolate with peppermint patties in the middle.  Tommy was ecstatic!  “Hey, Jim!  I’m Tommy!  Man!  Have you ever tasted Alicia’s brownies? Oh, my gosh!  They’re out of this world!  You gotta try her cooking!  She’s the best!”  And Jimmy’s thinking, “Is there something wrong with her?  Jesus.  What, are they trying to marry her off?  This is starting to get weird.”  He crossed the room, when Dad came barreling out of the kitchen, knife in left hand, right hand cupped with something wet and red, dripping all over the floor.  “Yeah!  Good to meet you!  Jack Wattley!  I’d shake your hand, but mine’s covered in BLOODWORMS.”  Yup.  That’s what he fed the tropical fish he bred.  Bloody, runny, squirmy bloodworms.  Dripping from his hand.  I was told later, Jimmy went white in the face.  Jimmy doesn’t do yucky, on any level.  After a quick recovery, he sat down in the Florida room, where my mother was seated, arms crossed, teeth clenched.  In her heavy Spanish accent, her first words ever to him were, “So!  What are your politics??”  Can you imagine? WHAT ARE YOUR POLITICS?  Right about that time, Pamela came bouncing out of the bedroom and said, “Hey, Jimmy!  You here to pick up Yaya?”  He said he almost bolted.  He said he almost got up and walked out, thinking, “Goddamnit.  I’m 35 years old.  I don’t need this shit.  Picking up her up and I have to meet her parents??   And they call her YAYA?”  Yaya is my nickname, the name Tommy and Pamela gave me as babies unable to pronounce “AH-lee-cee-AH”.  Unbeknown to us, Yaya in Greek is either Grandmother or old woman.  And, remember, Jimmy’s 100% Greek.  That totally rattled him.  How, I don’t know, but somehow, we made it.  Here we are 22 years later, still together after all the ups and downs and all the wild rides.  Happy Valentine’s Day, my Sweeties!

I’ve made countless brownies over the years but I feel the most perfect ones are Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies.  When you take a look at the ingredients you’ll see why.  Past decadent but unbelievably sublime.  The only changes I’ve made to her recipe is in the procedure of putting them together.  Oh, and no nuts…Jamesy ain’t a nut man.  Because they are so incredibly rich I cut them into smaller portions.  Also, know this recipe makes quite a few.  Oh, and they ship really well, just make sure you pack them tightly in their shipping container.   I filled gaps in care packages with boxes of Conversation Hearts, little heart-shaped Red Hots and one, big plastic heart with silly Valentine phrases stamped on it.  So, let’s kiss, sweet talk, love ya, text me, URA star, #1fan, and be mine, my baby!

Outrageous Brownies

  • Servings: 20 large squares or 40-60 small portions
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 pound, plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, Hershey’s works great
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder or granules, I use instant espresso, Pilon or whatever you have on hand
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chopped walnuts, purely optional

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line a 12 X 18 X 1-inch baking sheet with tin foil and spray with non-stick spray.
  3. Melt together the butter, the 1 pound chocolate chips,  and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. (I do my butter chocolate mixture in the microwave in 1 to 2 minute increments, stirring often.  Up to you)
  4. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. In a large bowl, stir, do not beat, together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar.
  6. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool.
  7. Sift 1 cup of flour, the baking powder and salt and add to cooled chocolate mixture.  Don’t mix quite yet.
  8. Toss the 12 ounces of chocolate chips in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, add walnuts if using.
  9. Add floured chips to chocolate batter and mix until just combined.
  10. Pour onto baking sheet.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until brownies come away from edge of pan.  Do not overbake. You want a toothpick to come out clean when testing for doneness.
  12. Cool thoroughly, refrigerate, then cut into squares.

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